Beyond elective dictatorshipAbusing arithmetic comfort can lead to tyranny
Published at : December 25, 2018
Updated at : December 25, 2018 08:15
The phrase ‘elective dictatorship,’ popularised by the British politician Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham) in 1970s, aptly sums up the state of affairs in present day Nepal. Among its key characteristics is an elected government with a majority in Parliament. These structures are strong to such an extent that the so-called ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ or ‘legislative freedom’ is severely constricted by the imposition of party discipline—even in the legislative process. In these contexts, the role of the members of parliament representing the ruling party is not to engage in critical parliamentary debates but to limit their capacities to simply pledging unflinching loyalty to the leadership.
Despite all the arithmetic comfort to pass any bill from Parliament, the hawkish majoritarian government often exhibits a tendency of circumscribing Parliament to enact new laws. And, its meek members largely do not even have qualms. This is exactly what the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the government is doing. For that matter, it would be unfair to claim that earlier majority governments acted differently.
But, above and beyond that, the NCP government—akin to a ‘communist state’—is now openly sponsoring vigilantism in every possible sphere of national life.
Tightening the grip
The prime minister himself publicly warned the ‘intellectuals’ who are critical of his powerful government’s meager performance that he would ‘see them all fall through’ once he opened his mouth. Perhaps more alarmingly, he even instigated his party cadres to attack intellectuals and thinkers—like a hive of hornets does to its enemy. And, not surprisingly, brigades of his personally loyal cadres, including several who are working in his own secretariat, have duly complied with his diktats.
In elective dictatorships, diverse modus operandi are employed. A dedicated group of supporters is set in action to fish out ‘any possible shortcoming’ of a few noted public opinion-makers, allegedly at the behest of the prime minister himself, so that they can be exposed or, potentially, brought down to their knees. At the same time, another group works in tandem to manufacture ‘fake news’ in social media to tarnish the image of some highly critical voice—while a third group channels concerted efforts to ostracise the ‘subject,’ creating a sort of ‘virtual kangaroo court’ in digital newsfeeds.
The second set of state-sponsored praxis has been exposed in the blatant mishandlings of the Nirmala Pant rape-and-murder case. The state apparatus is out to hunt a scapegoat who could pose as the person responsible for the crime to save the real criminal; perhaps only a few in power know who exactly they are trying to protect. The recent revelations associated with the case indicate that some youths were coerced into the hilt to confess the crime at the cost of their lives. This new form of state-sponsored chaos has ensued, showcasing this government’s penchant for impunity.
The third method applied is the instant arrests of citizens who post critical content against powerful governmental actors on social media. These attempts at censorship have been masked under efforts of ‘cyber crime control.’ Only two days ago, an opposition party functionary was apprehended from Chitwan, the constituency of Co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for posting a facebook comment that critiqued him. Police were quick to defend the arrest, claiming that there was a ‘formal’ complaint against the upload. This is enough to suggest that the ruling party has also mobilised a complaint-filing squad that jumps to censor as critical material is uploaded.
Fourth, the entire bureaucracy is now taken in ransom by the trade union(s) affiliated to the ruling party. In every single promotion, transfer or posting, no minister or secretary in the ministry is capable of taking independent decisions without consultation and consent of trade union units in respective offices. One of the major hurdles faced in sending officials of local and provincial levels is created by none other than these trade unions.
Posting members to the local governments in far-flung areas is now seen as a punishment to the public servants. These decisions have invariably been decided largely according to bigotry plans of the NCP-affiliated trade union. The chief executives of public enterprises are forced to succumb to the tantrums of the unions to save their jobs.
Fifth, there is yet another more serious kind of state-sponsored vigilantism in the offing. The government is now widely criticised, not only by the public or intelligentsia in general but also by rank and file of the ruling NCP itself, for its utter failure to deliver ‘goods’. The dilapidating economy, poor governance and deliberate prevarication from prom pressing public issues have also caused anxiety everywhere, including in the NCP. The government is trying to shift all the blames to the bureaucracy for the latter’s non-cooperation. In an effort to address all these malaises in the government, Co-chairman Dahal, last Sunday, in a true communist spirit, publicly proposed a weird solution: NCP, within two months, would mobilise the entire party organisation and the cadre-volunteers to speed up the ‘now stalled’ development process.
Shrinking civic space
What this effectively means is: these volunteers will act up and above the development administration and existing state structure. They will dictate the bureaucracy during decisions around which development project to implement and how. And perhaps, will also likely have access to state funds. In many communist states, the party edifice also functions as the country’s bureaucracy as well. But, in a transparent democracy like ours with a (supposedly) defined separation of power, executive (mainly spending) authority is only with either the elected officials or the regular bureaucracy. Even in our own experience, such unduly hyped party voluntarism has seldom set any precedence worth emulating. For example, the NCP (then UML) mobilised its cadres in rescue and reconstruction in the aftermath of Gorkha earthquake, but it hardly bore any tangible results.
As such, the government appears determined to vindictively thwart every criticism instead of using the critiques as feedback to improve its performance. The resultant effect is rapidly shrinking civic space and cancerously spreading self-censorship. The confidence of the state-protected vigilantes is skyrocketing while the authority of the state is dwindling fast. Worst of all, there is no place left for citizens to complain or take refuge in against state’s reprisals. And worryingly, no force to reckon with seems really bothered by these ominous developments.
Wagle tweets at @DrAchyutWagle.